Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Middle Temple Law Library

There are four Inns of Court in London: Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Grey’s.  Every barrister in the UK must be registered the inn of their choice.  Each inn has a different specialty, but they are all interconnected and any member can access any of the four libraries.  Middle Temple has a specialty in American and European Union Law.  As a result the library contains one of the largest American Law Collections in the UK.  This collection was largely built up after WWII, primarily by government, publisher, and university donations.  The rooms which house the American Collection are multi-purpose.  In order to maximize space the library has converted several sections of the stacks into private rooms which can be used for lectures or meetings.  The rooms contain books, and patrons have access to them even when in use.

The library existed as early as 1540.  However it was re-founded in 1641 by Robert Ashley.  He was a brilliant man who lived and worked at Middle Temple for most of his life.  He collected many rare and unique items, in over a half dozen languages.  Upon his death he donated his personal library of around 4,000 books to the library.  He had managed to purchase a large portion (80 books) of John Dunne’s personal library when it was sold after his death.  Several of Ashley’s books are the only known copies in the world.  The library received a huge boost with Ashley’s collections and has continued to grow ever since.  The current collection contains around 250,000 books.

The current library was constructed in the 1950s.  The previous building had been bombed twice during the Blitz and it was no longer sound.  Prudently the majority of the collection, especially the rare and special items, had been moved out to the countryside, only the bare minimum of reference works remained in London.  Sir Edward Moff was commissioned as the architect to design a new, stronger building.  He used reinforced concrete to protect the books from any future threats.  After construction was complete the collections were moved in, and the fourth floor was converted into a space for the archives and special collections.  The third floor contains the American Collection, International Law, and Capital Punishment.  The first and second floors contain the bulk of the EU and British law collections, including textbooks, reports, journals, the Ecclesiastical Collection, and a section on human rights. 

main collections
No classification system is used in the library.  The senior benchers (administrators) don’t like the look of labels on book’s spines, so the books remain free of labels.  There is no specific subject organization either.  In the catalog the entire library is organized by bay and shelf number.  Items are physically located not through Dewey or LC but according to what number shelf they are in.  When any books are moved, such as to add new series or collections, the entire catalog needs to be undergo a slow update one item at a time.   
Two of the most prized items in the library are not actually books, but globes.  The Molyneux Globes are the only known pair of their kind in existence, both celestial and terrestrial.  Other single globes exist, but no other collector has a pair.  They were created in 1592 and 1603.  The east coast line of the United States is extremely accurate considering the scant resources and accurate maps that would have been available at the time.
Celestial Globe
After we saw the library we were allowed to see Middle Temple Hall.  The Hall was impressive.  It has a double hammer beam roof, one of only three in the world.  It was built in 1562 and has remained almost unaltered to this day.  The walls are lined with the coats of arms of the Readers.  The windows contain the arms of famous members.  Royal portraits are at the end: Queen Elizabeth, Charles I, James II, William III, Queen Ann and George I.  Partial suits of armour line the walls.  In 1602 Shakespeare’s newly written Twelfth Night was performed for the first time at Middle Temple Hall. 

view from the minstrel's gallery
This was the first law library that I’ve visited.  I enjoyed learning about the history of the Inns of Court and was also interested to learn of the American connection.  Five of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had been trained at and were members of Middle Temple.  Seven signers of the Constitution were as well.  The library has an early printed copy of the Declaration with the members signatures underlined.  From the very beginning the Middle Temple has had a special connection with the United States, as is evident from its continued interest in the American legal system. 

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